Opening a can of worms for Secondary Teachers: Safe online use, whose responsibility is it?

The safe and responsible use of information and communication technology is easier for primary schools than secondary schools. Why? Simply because for the majority of primary schools, students have the same teacher for each subject, therefore it is often covered as part of the health and or technology program by the class teacher. However,  in secondary schools, students have different teachers for different subjects. So, whose responsibility is it to teach secondary students safe online use?

Does safe online use fall under the umbrella of pastoral care or religion? Does it fall under the umbrella of technology  or health/PE ? What if students don’t choose these subjects? What happens then? Some school may say, well, we have a guest speaker speak to year levels once a year, but is this really enough? These are all complicated questions which schools are currently, or are in the process of addressing. I am not claiming to be an expert in this field, I am simply providing food for thought.

There are many issues which fall under the banner ‘safe online use’, for the purpose of this post, I’d like to focus on safety from online predators. For teenage, social media is often ‘part of their life’, they are posting, liking, replying you name it. Should we ban it? No, education is the key. Teach students how to set their privacy settings for the social media sites they are using, if you don’t know yourself, ask a student in the class to teach the rest of the class.

A few years ago, I  was given a Year 10 relief technology relief lesson to cover  at a school. The notes from the relief teacher were to teach an aspect of Photoshop, I can’t recall the exact details but the students were over it. So I asked them to arrange their chairs in a circle around the interactive TV (I can still recall the mumbles about how onerous this simple task was), so that we could watch a video. Before watching the video I tried to create a conversation about their use of social media. The circle discussion was rather quiet, in fact no one was open to contribute at all, teenagers, lesson going well 😅 .

So, for an ice breaker I spoke about my son (sorry mate). Don’t worry, he’s happy for me to share his story. When he was 12 he asked me if he could have an Instagram account. At the time I was busy on my device (ironic isn’t it?), and I replied, I’ll look into it later. Then I recall him asking me on another occasion, again I brushed him off. Later, I received a pop up on my iPad about an Instagram account linked to my device. What? I didn’t even have one. To cut a long story short, he had created an account behind my back because he felt pressured at school. I got it, so I checked his account. OMG! He had over 200 followers within a few weeks, many he didn’t know!

Tears, hugs, lessons learnt on both sides, we set his privacy settings and I taught him which images he could and couldn’t upload. Basically, he wasn’t permitted to upload any images of himself, friends or family members. He had to get creative about what he could actually post 🤔and he had to let my sister and husband follow him to monitor his use. Then I showed the  year 10 class Consequences from the ThinkUKnow website. Watch it if you haven’t already!

The following day, a student came up to me and said, ‘Thank you, thank you so much. I’ve deleted X number of people from my FaceBook account and I’ve changed my privacy settings. You reached out and connected with us’. It was such a moving moment. Forming some sort of connection is essential for teaching students about safe online use.

Getting back to the story of my son and his Instagram account, the part I didn’t mention to my year 10 relief class was that after discussing his safety settings, what he can and can’t post, I showed him the video below, also by ThinkUKnow. It is extremely confronting and highlights that boys can be equally affected by online use as girls.

So my final comments for this blog for secondary teachers is , open the discussion at your school if you haven’t had it already, ‘Safe online use, whose responsibility is it?’

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